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What is ‘Delayed Transformational Fatigue’?

In the last few years, the politicians and political parties usually labelled ‘right-wing populists’ enjoyed a remarkable series of successes. Donald Trump in the United States and Jarosław Kaczyński and his party, Law and Justice (PiS), in Poland have come to dominate the political scenes in their respective countries. 

Nigel Farage played a major role in convincing fifty-two per cent of British voters to vote for Brexit. In the 2014 European Parliament (EP) elections, far right parties increased their representation by 15 seats compared with 2009, and now have 52 MEPs. According to most observers, a rightward shift in the political climate of Europe and the USA is now beyond a doubt, although the scope and depth of the phenomenon are debated. 

For example, Cas Mudde commenting on the EP elections observed: ‘As has been the case since the emergence of the so-called ‘third wave’ of far right parties in the early 1980s, the successes of individual parties differed significantly across the continent. […] Overall, far right parties gained additional seats in just six countries, while they lost seats in seven others.’ (Washington Post, 30 May 2014). The more recent elections in France and Holland demonstrated that the populist wave in Europe is not unstoppable. In Poland the counter-mobilisation of liberal and centrist forces is noticeable, making for an increasingly intense period of political contestation.

Institutional change

Several years of rule by Victor Orban’s FIDESZ in Hungary and almost two years of Law and Justice party’s rule in Poland show that the ‘populist’ political formations are much more interested in the majoritarian rather than liberal dimensions of modern democracy. Orban openly talks about ‘illiberal democracy’ and Kaczyński, after losing the 2011 election, exclaimed: 

‘I am deeply convinced that a day will come when we will have a Budapest in Warsaw.’ 

These words reflect accurately the basic tenor of institutional changes in both countries where the media pluralism, the protection of minorities, sovereignty of civil society, and the independence of the judiciary have been challenged and weakened. Such (politically) illiberal moves of the Hungarian and Polish governments herald a dramatic political change, prompting alarm even among the most restrained observers of European affairs. 

The fear is that the process many social scientists have observed and begun analysing since the mid-2000s, and that Jan-Werner Müller has called ‘political backsliding’ (Foreign Affairs, 6 August 2014), is now in full swing.